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Spend a Weekend in Eastern Oregon

A road trip from John Day to Frenchglen offers excellent birding, exceptional natural beauty, and surprising refreshments.

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  • gravel road winds gently John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, picture
    Photo credit
    Photo: Zack Frank/Shutterstock
    Photo caption
    A gravel road winds gently through John Day Fossil Beds National Monument.
  • mule deer-a buck & doe-in the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, picture
    Photo credit
    Photo: Age Fotostock/Alamy
    Photo caption
    Mule deer live in the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.

Sights and Events

For a peek into Oregon's past, explore the hundreds of antiques at the Harney County Historical Museum. Vintage photos and restaurant menus, a 265-pound ball of twine, and a pinecone replica of the Liberty Bell paint a quirky picture of local life. 18 W. D St., Burns.

Birders flock to the town of Burns and nearby Harney Basin for the Harney County Migratory Bird Festival, April 6–9 this year. Spot sandhill cranes and tundra swans in the willow thickets, marshes, and grasslands. 484 N. Broadway Ave., Burns.

Outside the tiny community of Diamond you'll find the Pete French Round Barn. This unusual wood corral, built in 1883 and measuring 100 feet in diameter, now stands as a monument to its pioneer namesake, aka the Cattle King. 51955 Lava Bed Rd., Diamond.

Shops

Let the bullet-riddled door of Kam Wah Chung State Heritage Site transport you back to the 1870s, when John Day had the third-largest Chinatown in the country. The site's museum—part Chinese apothecary and general store, part gambling den—is a perfectly preserved time capsule, complete with stuffed bear paws, empty booze bottles, and colorful altars. 125 NW Canton St., John Day.

Maybe you didn't know you were on the hunt for honeytobacco candles, soft leather earrings, or pewter-hued linen tank tops, but you'll find them all at the chic women's shop Robin's Closet Boutique. 408 N. Broadway Ave., Burns.

The Round Barn Visitor Center is much more than a gift shop; it's where Harney County goes to snag leather purses, colorful cowboy boots, sturdy denim jackets, and original artwork. 51955 Lava Bed Rd., Diamond.

Eats

Bella Java & Bistro pours everything from steaming Americanos to hoppy ales from nearby nano-brewery Steens Mountain Brewing. The high-ceilinged café also serves sandwiches and salads, plus frozen yogurt in flavors such as Georgia peach. 314 N. Broadway Ave., Burns.

Nurse a creamy Black Oak Instigator stout at the industrial-looking 1188 Brewing Co., a brewpub that serves goat cheese–topped flatbreads along with frothy house-made beers. 141 E. Main St., John Day.

In a town with a population of five, the historic Hotel Diamond is an unexpected retreat. Drop by for lunch or call ahead to reserve a spot for dinner. The family style feast includes such dishes as chicken marsala, walnut pesto pasta, and crisp strawberry brûlée. 49130 Main St., Diamond.

Outdoors

Situated 55 miles southeast of Burns, Diamond Craters earns its name with hundreds of volcanic features, including small calderas, blast craters, and the doughnut-shaped Little Red Cone.

Start your visit to the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument at the Thomas Condon Paleontology Center to see marsh rhino skulls from the Cenozoic era, then trek along the Sheep Rock Overlook Trail to marvel at canyons layered with volcanic ash. 32651 Hwy. 19, Kimberly.

Although it made headlines in early 2016 during a controversial occupation, the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is best known as the protected wetlands that shelter some 350 species of birds and animals. In early spring you can spot colonies of sandhill cranes; pronghorn antelope and mule deer give birth in late May. 36391 Sodhouse Ln., Princeton.

Explore stunning scenery on the 52-mile Steens Mountain Backcountry Byway, starting just outside Frenchglen, which traverses a 9,733-foot peak while winding through aspen groves and fields brimming with wildflowers. The gates officially open after Memorial Day, but early-spring visitors can apply for a key at the Burns District Bureau of Land Management location.

This article was first published in Spring 2017. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.